So, I’m thinking about the times of our growing up, and who did what in the story of our lives. We never think much about it while it’s happening, during the years when we are coming to our senses. During those times, we are too busy trying to figure out what’s going on.
This process has always fascinated me, wondering what I was thinking. I can’t remember any details about how it was for me. Do you ever wonder how we ended up in the particular places we were, with the people with whom we were packaged? Do you ever wonder how it was that these particular people came to inhabit your life?
Didn’t we just take for granted what was happening all around us as we were growing up, and just went on from there? But, let’s face it, the operation of our lives didn’t just happen. Somebody was out there doing the heavy lifting for us while we just floated along with the tide. It may take us a lifetime to figure that out and to begin to appreciate how generous other people have been, with what may have been meagre resources, in the making of our lives. I remember I resented, for the longest time, never having had any choice about the particular place in which I found myself. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place into one of my own making. Are all of us that arrogant as to our imagined rights at that young age? Did you ever have similar disloyal thoughts?
I think about the roles I had in bringing up my own children. I get the feeling that I sleepwalked through that job, concentrated as I was on making the best of my career opportunities. How much of that was ego and how much of that was an inbred drive, an absorbed imperative to provide for my dependents? I always told myself that they were the ultimate beneficiaries of my misguided priorities. My dependents may have a different view.
How much time did I spend preparing them to cope with the demands of a sometimes hostile world? Did I spend enough time counseling them as to how they might overcome the challenges they were sure to face? Did I do enough beyond providing food, clothing and housing? Was it enough? Did I do a better job than my parents did, as I was convinced I could? Didn’t I have a greater capacity to do that, so that so much more was expected?
I’ve never talked to my kids much about these concerns. Now I am a little hesitant about broaching the subject. I fear the memories they might have would have them judging my behaviour as bordering on neglect. Horrors! Did I do enough of the heavy lifting that was required? Do you people out there ever think about this stuff? Don’t we all console ourselves with the thought that we always did our best under the circumstances? Do we dare ask our kids about that?
If we look at nature, at the way creatures go about raising their young, it is clear that, in most cases, mammals and birds will, like humans, protect and nourish their young during their vulnerable periods, even to the point of surrendering their lives if need be. For wild creatures, the pains they go to, making nests and burrows, hunting and gathering food, seem without limit, commandeered by instinct. And the young learn by following their parents’ example. For humans, that period of vulnerability is so much longer. And what our young have to learn is so much more complex.
I always thought I would do better when my turn came, only to realize on maturity how the many gifts I had been given by my parents would challenge my own capacities to match them with my own brood. We know what a difference parental attendance can make in an offspring’s future.
How many parents stick with a job they hate to put bread on the table? How many parents stay in a relationship they loath to keep a roof over the heads of their young? Most just keep on doing what they have to do, day after day, year after year. That’s heavy lifting!
How many parents abandon places where they know all the rules for the unknown, in the hope of ensuring their children will have a better chance at life? How many jump off into danger in the hope of finding a better life? We are hearing a lot about that these days at the Unites States’ southern border. And at many European borders for the last several years. Didn’t most of us have it a lot easier?
How do we define what we owe ourselves and what we owe to those we are responsible for bringing into this world? How many of those rules come from outside ourselves, absorbed from our parents, from our communities? (What a hierarchy of social imperatives I inherited just by being born Jewish! What was in your birth box?) Or, like other creatures, do we mostly act out of instinct? We see all kinds of behaviours. And we can’t help judging what we see, whatever our own performance has been, with whatever tatters of standards remain to us.
Now, no longer under the gun, and seeing things with a broader perspective, what do we do now? Do we think we have the right to butt in on our offspring with our own views about how things should go? How do you think we would feel if we were in their place? Isn’t it obvious? Do we have the wisdom to wait to be invited to comment? Will that invitation ever come?
For many of us, the heavy lifting is now in other hands.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.